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Big Bad Beautiful Bloke Art

Anselm Keifer’s show at the Royal Academy is breathtaking.

I have only a passing interest in his early work but the later paintings and sculptures are wild. Vast wonderful paintings from floor to ceiling thick with paint layer upon layer and lines marking tracks of celestial discourse perhaps I don’t know. The canvas’ are heavy with latex and mud and dirt and sometimes diamonds glittering in the cracks of riven black and brown mud scorched by an invisible sun. Sunflowers and straw interwoven making narratives.. telling all and hinting at nothing. And they smell rich with linseed and tar although when I closed my eyes I imagined more engine oil. And the lead so heavy and dark but soft and pliable carrying the weight of the unspoken and unseen things of this world.

There is such poetry in the destructive nature of his work. Such immense power. Authority.

Like Joseph Beuys and his use of goose fat and tar and felt there is real ownership of the materials. A sense of belonging and acknowledgment of the elements of this world. Making work to chart the destiny of the physical as well as the soul. Both those men tell Big stories. Where though can I find art by women that tells the same big stories? Where is the art of the women that tracks the journey of the soul from this world to the next and expresses it in such a huge and darkly glittering way? The work that questions our very existence and purpose in this life. That totally occupies the space and completely owns the materials. Why as women do we not address these issues in sculpture and painting. Why is our work so often about our bodies and not our souls? Why do we apologise before we even begin?

Doris Salcedo fills vacant lots with a thousand or more chairs and makes cracks through the concrete floor of the turbine hall at Tate gloriously scarring forever the sanctity of the place. Fiona Banner drops a highly polished war plane into the middle of Tate Britain and Rachel Whiteread makes the invisible visible by molding negative spaces. They are all reacting to the sense of containment – two fingers up to authority. Fuck the fucking fuckers said in so many different ways. But why is there this need to react and not just act. Why do we as women have to explain and position ourselves before we can begin telling the Big Story?

Or maybe it is that all stories don’t have to be big. That the mysteries of this life are in fact already known by us and do not need revealing and aggrandising. That big does not necessarily mean important. That the smallest of things… the flimsiest of fabric… a solitary breath or a single mark on an empty wall can in the same way serve to remind us not of the elemental nature of our own selves but of the simplicity of the soul. Perhaps it is that we are not apologising or in fact reacting but just beginning with the assumption that the soul is known absolutely and does not need explanation. And if that is the case then artists like Anselm Kiefer and Beuys and all the other big dark painting heavy sculpture men who are supposedly revealing the meaning of life in their work are in fact just self important time wasters and really should stop hogging the limelight and all the big art galleries should give themselves over to showing womens work for a time just so we can have a new perspective on art and the meaning of life for a while.

Having said that though you really should go and see Anselm Kiefer’s show at the Royal Academy. It’s breathtaking.

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